Getting a Grip on Apologetics, Part 2: Debunking Myths and Misunderstandings
by Johnathan Pritchett
In Part 1, Christian apologetics was defined and explained in the context of its biblical use, purpose, and warrant. Moreover, it was pointed out that apologetics is both a mandate and a function of the Church and for the Church. Here in Part 2, in some coherent order, several myths and misunderstandings regarding apologetics will be addressed.
1. Apologetics is more interested in philosophy than theology.
The common perception that apologetics is more preoccupied with philosophy than theology is incorrect and without merit. The primary concern of apologetics is defending biblical doctrines from attack. Atheists attack the Doctrine of God, creation ex nihilo, miracles, and so forth, but atheists aren’t the only people attacking the faith. The apologetic enterprise includes defending orthodox biblical doctrines against heretical cults like Mormonism, Christadelphians, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Oneness Pentecostals, liberal theologians, and other heretical groups. When engaging these groups, a firm understanding of all the biblical doctrines and theology are primary. But opponents also include people of other religions like Islam, Wicca, Judaism, and so on. Apologetics is about contending for the faith, not philosophy or philosophical arguments.
While it is the case that some of the more popular professional apologists in evangelical circles are Christian philosophers, one thing that must be understood: many have multiple degrees, with one being in some area of New Testament Studies or theology. Indeed, many who have their Ph.D. in philosophy usually have some theological degree at the masters level at the very least, if not multiple doctorates. However, the majority of scholars and laypersons involved in the field of apologetics are not philosophers at all. Furthermore, all seminary professors who write biblical commentaries engage in apologetics on some level particularly when defending the early dates or traditional authorship of the biblical books.
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As an aside, and as of late, what once were the claims of Open Theists, theological liberals, Oneness Pentecostals, and other fringe or heretical groups, more and more often in evangelical circles is the claim that “Greek Philosophy” (whatever that means) is the evil boogie man at whose feet all the supposed ills of Western Theology (i.e., a biblical doctrine someone or some group happens to dislike) can be laid. This, of course, is nonsense. The categories, concepts, and patterns of thought that came out of “Greek Philosophy” or “Greek thought,” made the clarity, precision and articulation of New Testament theology possible.
Consider the following:
A. Matthew, a Gospel clearly with a Jewish audience in view, was written in Greek, as is the entire New Testament. Greek thought cannot be separated from the language.
B. Jesus’ arrival was providentially given in a certain time and place in history (Gal. 4:4), and it so happens that the Greek thought and philosophical categories, concepts, etc., were firmly in place by that time in and around the Roman Empire, including in Israel.
C. The New Testament authors used the Septuagint (LXX), which was translated by Alexandrian Neo-Platonists.
None of this means that the Jewish culture of Second Temple Judaism affirmed all the Greek norms, morals (or lack thereof), pagan idols, etc., or that there was no more distinctively Hebrew thought left at all, but it does mean that they had knowledge of it, and those concepts, categories of thought, and so forth that came out of the Greek Philosophical enterprise was an integrated part of their thinking by that time period. This is evidenced throughout the New Testament especially in the structure and argumentation found in the Epistles…